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In fact, Bermuda has not enacted the EU sanctions in its domestic legislation at all, and Orders in Council have not been applied there. In our view, if the EU
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sanctions are to work properly, in partnership with the respective Governments involved, the UK Government need urgently to review the effectiveness of the implementation of EU sanctions in British overseas territories. I therefore ask the Minister to inform the House whether any such review is being undertaken. Will she also give a commitment to ensuring that new Orders in Council are introduced to guarantee that the new EU sanctions have more meaningful and immediate effect?

In addition, the UK imported £19 million-worth of goods from Burma and exported £2 million in the first eight months of 2007. We do not, however, know the identities of the companies involved because the Government refuse to disclose their names on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Given the understandable and increasing interest of the British public in the conflict within Burma, will the Minister reconsider the Government’s decision not to disclose the names of those companies that currently invest in Burma, so that they, too, can be held to account?

In conclusion, I am pleased that the Government have sought to make Burma the subject of this Adjournment debate. It is right and proper that the House has the opportunity to voice its concerns on this vital issue. The situation in Burma has been most grave for a long time, and the events of the past months have pulled the country dramatically back into the public eye and can leave no excuse for the international community not to act. The Government can be assured of support from the Liberal Democrats if they are serious about resolving the grave human rights abuses, if they are serious about resolving the humanitarian crisis and if they are actively engaged in helping to bring about a resolution of the crisis in Burma. For the sake of the people of that country, I very much hope that they are.

6.28 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I compliment the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on their introductions to the debate. I very strongly agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)—I hope that I have pronounced the name of her constituency correctly—who talked so strongly about the situation with regard to parliamentarians.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Little Englander.

Mike Gapes: The members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs are not little Englanders; we visited the United Nations in New York two weeks ago, and we had useful discussions with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the situation in Burma, as well as meeting some of the exiled groups that are working in the UN to try to get democracy and human rights in their country. I shall begin my remarks with a discussion of those groups.

There has been much concentration on the nature of the regime and the repressive events in Rangoon and elsewhere, but so far nobody has talked about the complexity and diversity of the country. Burma—Myanmar—is one of the most ethnically complicated
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and mixed countries in the world. More than 40 per cent. of the population are from ethnic minority groups and, for more than 20 years, there has been a series of sometimes violent rebellions against the brutal military regime. So far, many of those groups have not engaged in the current protests and pressure for democracy, but if there is to be political progress in Burma, it will be a question not just of restoring a democratically elected Government, but also of making sure that there is political dialogue and compromise to end long-standing, deep-seated and complicated regional and ethnic conflicts.

One of our problems in dealing with the situation is the mindset of the regime. There is an interesting article, “Understanding the junta”, by Nic Dunlop in the latest issue of Prospect. I recommend that all Members read that article, because it shows clearly that the mindset of the so-called State Peace and Development Council—probably one of the most misnamed organisations ever—is based on the training the generals received from the Japanese imperial army, which established an organisation to fight against the British in the 1940s. Later, some of those generals, including the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, changed sides and joined the British to drive out the Japanese, because they realised that the Burmese people would not get their freedom by allying with the Japanese. In 1947, the British Labour Government brought about the process that led to the establishment of an independent Burmese state.

In reality, however, there is a brutal, repressive mindset within the military that goes back to the 1940s, so we have to confront the difficult fact that those people live in a time warp and their world view will be extremely difficult to change. Mr. Gambari may try to do it, but he does not hold the cards. Reference has been made to Burma’s neighbours and countries that can influence Burma. The United States does not have influence, nor does the EU, although it is right that we have sanctions policies and that we bring international pressure to bear. It is right that we do whatever we can, but it is an illusion to think that we will be able to change the nature of the regime, which will either be overthrown internally or changed through pressure from Burma’s neighbours and the region.

There has been some movement in the position of the Chinese. It is important that China recognises that the whole world is watching its behaviour now that it is a serious global player and that, as we approach the 2008 Olympics, there will be even more attention on China and its policies, both internal and international. However, even though 700 Chinese companies invest in Burma, we must recognise that China alone will not be able to change the nature of the regime.

The ASEAN countries, including some of Burma’s neighbours, have a responsibility, too. One of those countries is Thailand, which is host to a large number of the refugees who have fled across the border from Burma. However, Thailand purchases gas from the Yadana and Yetagun gas fields so it also provides the regime with its largest amount of foreign currency earnings. Unfortunately, the Thai Government, too, are now a military regime, so we need to recognise that it is not just a question of talking with the Chinese, democratic India or other countries; Thailand has a
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role and we need to consider how we might influence other countries to bring about change in Burma.

Another important issue is what happens in ASEAN as a whole, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley pointed out in her remarks. An important ASEAN meeting will be held in Singapore next month to sign the ASEAN charter, which includes an agreement to establish an ASEAN human rights body. At present, there is no sign that the other nine ASEAN countries will try to expel or suspend Burma from their organisation. Indeed, it is likely that General Than Shwe, the strong man in the regime, will attend the charter signing ceremony, so we need to start to raise issues and to bring pressure internationally on ASEAN.

Reference has been made to the remarks of the Foreign Minister of Singapore. Some of the ASEAN countries are democracies and some—for example, Indonesia and the Philippines—have been pressing for strong statements of condemnation of what has been going on in Burma. Unfortunately, some others—Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam—have some sympathy for the authoritarianism of the Burmese regime. Those countries are not as bad as Burma, but nevertheless they are not pluralistic and democratic. There is a problem in achieving early, significant shifts of approach in the region.

Ann Clwyd: I have just returned from Cambodia where we had a two-hour session with the Prime Minister, Hun Sen. We discussed the situation in Burma at length and I hope that my hon. Friend will now find that a different attitude will be taken towards Burma than has been apparent so far.

Mike Gapes: That will be welcome. We must wait to see what happens. I am aware that although the secretary-general of ASEAN said there could be “no business as usual”, he also made it clear that there was no question of imposing sanctions on the Burmese regime or of suspending it.

The origins of the immediate crisis go back to the rapid increase in fuel prices that occurred due to the bankruptcy of the economy and the fact that the military regime was running a huge budget deficit. Whatever repressive actions the regime takes and however many people it beats up, drives into exile or kills, the fundamental problems will not go away. The regime spent billions of pounds building its new capital city in the middle of the jungle. The military elite has an adequate or good living, while the mass of the people live in abject poverty. The situation was so severe that the monks protested. People did not have enough money to live on so they could not give charity to monks, who in Buddhist culture rely on charity from the community. The situation is that bad and the underlying problems will remain unless the regime begins to change.

It is estimated that, in the 1990 election, a very large number of people in the military voted for the National League for Democracy, and that even now there is significant support within the military for possible reform and opening up, but of course the dinosaurs at the top will do everything possible to resist that change.
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It is to be hoped that someone in the regime will recognise that there needs to be transformation, compromise and dialogue.

Just as Nelson Mandela was let out of prison in South Africa to ensure a peaceful and democratic transition, so Aung San Suu Kyi should be released from house arrest and should be put in a position in which she, in discussion with her political colleagues, can act as a conduit and a force for the transformation of Burma into a pluralistic and democratic society. That is the best way forward for Burma, and that is a way to ensure an easing of the international pressure for sanctions, isolation, and targeted measures against members of the regime. If Burma does not take that way forward, Asian countries and the rest of the world will ratchet up the pressure, and the country’s underlying economic problems will not be resolved. There is a way out for Burma, if it has the courage to take it.

6.41 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Rape as a weapon of war, extra-judicial killings, compulsory relocation, forced labour, the use of child soldiers on a scale proportionately greater than in any other country of the world, the use of human minesweepers, the incarceration of political prisoners in conditions of unspeakable bestiality, religious persecution, water torture and the destruction of more than 3,000 villages in eastern Burma in the past decade are all chapters in the story of savagery that has shamed the Burmese military junta in the eyes of the world.

In the past three years, I have twice visited the Thai-Burma border and, in September this year, I returned from a week-long visit to the India-Burma border. Those visits left indelible impressions on my mind. I will never forget hearing testimony about a man who was dangled over a hot fire as part of his punishment. I will never forget speaking to a man who had been incarcerated and beaten throughout the night, and who had suffered the humiliation and agony of having his body swung repeatedly against a pillar. I will never forget hearing testimony about a man in Insein prison who was so malnourished, so ravaged, and so painfully thin that, in the words of my interlocutor, it was possible to see his intestines moving like worms.

I will never forget meeting a boy, now aged seven, who at the tender age of three was forcibly abducted by Government troops for use as bait, taken to a remote army camp, placed in a cold, stone room with a mud floor and no windows, and kept there for no fewer than eight hours without being offered food or water. I will never forget, on my first visit to the Thai-Burma border in April 2004, meeting parents who had seen their children shot dead in front of them, and meeting children who had seen their parents shot dead in front of them. I will never forget the stories of the barbaric mutilation that regularly takes place, courtesy of the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw. We are talking about eyes being gouged out, tongues being ripped out, noses being chopped off, and heads being chopped off. Above all, I will never forget the harrowing, chilling stories about heads being placed on pillars or posts in prominent parts of villages as a warning of what might lie in store for anyone who dared to rebel, or simply to presume safely to exist as a member of a minority.

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In light of the present situation, I have to call to mind all the experiences of the past 45 years and ask the House: what is new? The human rights abuses are not new, because as my right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, noted, they have been taking place for 45 years under the auspices of the barbaric and illegitimate Government. There is nothing new there. The abuses are not unrecorded, so there has been no new discovery of historical events; on the contrary, for decades, the abuses have been extensively documented by Amnesty International, by Human Rights Watch, by the Burma Campaign and—if I may say so with particular force and admiration—by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, whose Asia advocacy officer, Ben Rogers, has in recent years undertaken no fewer than 18 visits to the Thai-Burma border, and many visits to other borders. So there is nothing new there, either. There has been no revelation to the international community. Indeed, I think it fair and safe to say that, on the whole, the international community has been conscious of the nature, scale and recurrence of the abuses, but has by and large thought it politic to look the other way—to turn a blind eye and discuss a more convenient or comfortable subject.

I remember asking the then Prime Minister about the situation in Burma on 8 November 2004, and his reply was revealing and salutary. He said, at the Dispatch Box, that it was really only the absence of television cameras in Burma and a number of other places of despotism that enabled the dictators to get away with their ill-gotten gains and to cling to their power for so long. Now, the situation has changed, at least in the sense that we have learned of the nature of the abuses with an intensity that was previously denied to us. We have seen the bravery, courage, sacrifice and sheer undiluted heroism of the monks and others, and we have seen the sheer viciousness of the response from what must undoubtedly be one of the most egregious abusers of human rights to be found anywhere on the face of the planet.

Of course, we have to ask what we can do to bring about change. Every speaker tonight has asked that question and sought to answer it. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary and others correctly referred to the role of the European Union. I am sorry to say that hitherto it has been fiddling around in the undergrowth, and its position has been to opt for the lowest common denominator. It has sought sanctions in the form of action against the pineapple juice sector and a tailor’s shop in Rangoon. I am delighted that as a consequence of concerted pressure, of continued publicity and of remorseless protest from the international community and millions of ordinary people, it has now gone beyond that. Worthwhile sanctions are now in place, but we need to monitor them to ensure that they are enforced. As the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) said, we have to be sure that they are not effectively flouted via a circuitous route through the use of third countries. We should go for a comprehensive investment ban.

Let me make one other suggestion about the European Union: why do we not suggest, and advocate as policy, a ban on the provision of insurance cover to companies that trade with the regime? It is difficult to envisage companies being willing to trade with it if they cannot get insurance cover. There is a role for the European
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Union, and a role for the United Nations; that has to be pre-eminent. We need a Security Council resolution of a binding character that sets out, in terms, the actions that are required of the regime and an exacting timetable within which they have to be performed. That resolution should say that Aung San Suu Kyi should be freed; that all remaining political prisoners must be released; that there should be clear, free and unimpeded access both for humanitarian aid organisations and for those undertaking professional responsibilities to assess the human rights situation on the ground; and that there must be meaningful progress in tripartite talks with the National League for Democracy—the true victors of the 1990 elections—and representatives of the ethnic national groups, failing which, intensified sanctions, particularly the imposition of a comprehensive arms embargo, will follow.

Of course, there is a role for others, too. India and China are central, as the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) acknowledged. It pains me to reflect that India’s behaviour is getting worse at a time at which China’s might be considered to be getting a little better. How can the country of Gandhi and Nehru behave as it does, selling attack helicopters and the arsenals of potential destruction and certainly of human rights violation to this appalling regime? It simply is not right. It is not right that China does so; it is not right that Russia does so; it is not right that Serbia does so; it is not right that Ukraine does so; and it is not right that the member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations continue to do so. There comes a point at which we must say, “When will nations choose respect for human rights and democratic values over the reckless pursuit of filthy lucre?” As the hon. Member for Cheadle said, of course, it is right that Britain should put the priority of public interest and the availability of information ahead of the excuse of commercial confidentiality for companies importing goods and other equipment from Burma. I thought that the figure in 2006 was about £26 million-worth of goods. Companies that import goods from Burma should be named and shamed. People have a right to know the country of origin and the method of production of the goods that they are invited to buy.

I agree very much with what my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said, and I think that it will be echoed later by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), the shadow Secretary of State for International Development. We should embrace wholeheartedly the recommendations of the International Development Committee to quadruple aid, to facilitate greater cross-border assistance, and to back the women’s organisations and trade union groups that have toiled in the vineyard for years to help the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. We should support a range of exiled organisations, which not only have practical experience and worth to contribute, but should be part of the reconfigured arrangements in a new constitutional democracy in Burma.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am extremely pleased at what my hon. Friend said about British companies importing goods from Burma. My understanding is that we import £26 million-worth of such goods, so does he agree—and I think that he alluded to this—that those companies should be named and shamed?

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John Bercow: I certainly do. We have to do a great deal more, and ultimately, we have to decide how we are going to deal with a regime that is as despotic as the Burmese regime. One of the most horrific recent revelations was the report, supposedly unconfirmed but probably reliable, that the crematoriums were working overtime, burning the bodies of the regime’s slaughtered victims. Any regime that can behave in that way must be decisively confronted and defeated, rather than continually appeased.

Dr. Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend’s powerful description of that behaviour is, as he says, not a new description of that regime. It is not new, either, in the history of totalitarian Governments of both left and right. Is it not strange that many of the countries that he listed as helping the Burmese dictatorship claim to have broken with, or at least moved away from, totalitarian dictatorship themselves? Cannot more be done to try to show those countries that if they are to live up to the claims that they make for their own political evolution, they must put pressure on the Burmese Government?

John Bercow: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that underlines the importance of a much wider and more sophisticated concept of national interest. Many countries say that they do not want to interfere. We know perfectly well that, under international law, it cannot possibly be justified for a state to hide behind the cloak of sovereignty by practising egregious human rights abuses, so the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is well established in international law.

My response to other countries that are considering whether to give support to, or to trade with, Burma is simply that they do not know what the consequence of their behaviour may be. It is not simply a question of damaging consequences for individual citizens living in Burma but of the spread of disease; of an increase in the arms trade; and of regional and global insecurity that could result from a rogue state that is left untamed. It is a tiger that is on the loose, and it has to be dealt with decisively. Ultimately it comes down to the question of whether the member countries of the United Nations are prepared collectively to decide that the UN is an instrument of necessary change in the world, or whether they are content merely for the UN to be a symbol of passive acceptance of a thoroughly unsatisfactory status quo. I hope that it is the former, not the latter. I rejoice in the fact that there is substantial consensus on many issues across the House. We need to ensure that there is priority, focus, determination, resolution and clarity in public policy. That is right in itself, it is what the people of Burma need, and it is what they most certainly deserve.

6.56 pm

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), who made an eloquent, expansive, moving and informative speech.

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